Big West Top 10 Countdown: No. 6

We're still a few months away before the games actually begin but Big West fan J. Kline gives us his early predictions of what's in store for the 2003-04 basketball season.

#6 Cal Poly SLO
Predicted Record: 9-9

Was their late-season run the culmination of a senior-laden squad, or was it the dawn of a new era under coach Kevin Bromley? both, actually. PF/C Varnie Dennis carried them all year, but PG Jason Allen catalyzed an 8-3 finish. Allen and 5 other seniors leave an even heavier weight for Dennis to bear, but CP fans should believe in Bromley's ability to ease the burden with the quality athletes he’s attracted to charming SLO.

Varnie had a terrific year, leading the BWC in ppg, blocks, and (almost) rpg. He wasn't voted POY, but was the most deserving candidate. He averaged 32 mpg, on a knee with no cartilage. That knee could make or break CP's season. He nearly redshirted this year, to rest it and concentrate on classes, but a productive summer has him in better shape and on-track to graduate. Should Varnie break down, so will CP, a team too thin and with too many new faces. But, don’t bet against him; he’s too tough.

Cal Poly SLO’s biggest question is guard-play. Jason Allen and Steve Geary leave vacancies at PG and SG. Eric Jackson, a good defensive 2, will play major minutes, but won’t improve the offense. Enter Kameron Gray, JC PG: the league's most exciting newcomer. Gray's a great story: unnoticed SF in H.S., switches to PG in JC, overnight success, takes year off to coach H.S. , and now takes the Mustang’s reigns. I've never seen him play, but I like him already. Another talented PG is rs-soph Fernando Sampson. Both Gray and Sampson lack experience, so expect some struggles. Mike Titchenal will also play some SG. Greg Nelson may be the odd man out.

2003-04 Big West Projections
No. 10 Long Beach State
No. 9 Cal State Northridge
No. 8 UC Riverside
No. 7 Idaho
No. 6 Cal Poly SLO

Nick Enzweiller transfers from UTEP and will immediately help on offense, being an excellent shooter and passer with D-1 experience. But, he plays the same position as Shane Schilling. It's an interesting problem, because for all Schilling's positives (excellent-conditioned athlete, good defender and rebounder) he has a major flaw. He shoots and misses a lot. I'd rank him as the BWC's second-biggest bricklayer from last year (and the top returnee). 39.4% FG was not an anomaly; he's under 40% for his career.
Which raises a less-obvious problem: rebounding. Jared Patterson and Diaby Kamara did yeomen’s work on the glass. Who collects the caroms now? Junior C Phil Johnson for one. Johnson averaged 10 ppg, 6 rpg, and shot over 60% FG when playing 18+ minutes. Beyond this it gets sketchy. Vladimir Lisinic isn't an inside presence. The remainder of the forwards are true freshmen. C Zach Thurow, PF John Manley, and SF Tyler McGinn join CP this year. McGinn may be the best of the bunch, but he should RS behind Schilling and Enzweiller, meaning Manley and/or Thurow are needed now.

I like that Bromley is bringing in athletes from across the country. Guys like Gray and Titchenal (academic all-conference) are a credit to CP. It should make for an interesting year, assuming Varnie's healthy. But, with all the new pieces, it's too much to expect this puzzle to fit perfectly.